There’s something about mini camp that makes the entire event overblown. Maybe it’s due to the fact that the event is held in the middle of the off-season, during the time period where there is very little baseball news, putting a huge spotlight on the events. Maybe it’s because this is one of the few moments in the off-season where you hear from a lot of players, and hear about their progress.
Here is the truth about mini camp: it’s overrated.
As a member of the media, I love it. It’s the only event of the off-season that puts 70+ players in a locker room, providing stories during the time of the off-season that is hardest to generate content. None of these stories are really news updates. You’ll have something like Charlie Morton throwing his first bullpen, but the bulk of the other stories are just player features, and they’re not much different than the ones you’ll read during the opening week of Spring Training.
That’s not to say there isn’t good information to be found in mini camp. But positions aren’t won and lost here. Players are hardly getting ready for the upcoming season at this point. About 95% of the pitchers I talked to won’t even start throwing bullpen sessions until next week.
Here is what happens at mini camp. Players arrive at some point before 9 A.M. The batting cages open at that time, but a lot of the players are just sitting around the locker room talking. Around 9:30 they start warm-ups, followed by throwing programs where the pitchers long toss up to whatever distance they’re at during this point in the off-season. After that there are some drills and batting practice sessions, although not as in-depth as the batting practice you see before a game, which includes base running and fielding at the same time. And then they pack it up after about an hour to an hour and a half of work.
There’s nothing significant going on here. If you think about it rationally, outside of the scope of “This is the slow part of the off-season, and this is the only thing going on, so let’s elevate this higher than it should be,” then you see that this isn’t really a big event. You can kind of tell that by the attendance. Take a look at the projected starting lineup.
C – Francisco Cervelli (Not in attendance)
1B – Pedro Alvarez (Not in attendance)
2B – Neil Walker (Not in attendance)
SS – Jordy Mercer (In attendance)
3B – Josh Harrison (Not in attendance)
LF – Starling Marte (Not in attendance)
CF – Andrew McCutchen (Not in attendance)
RF – Gregory Polanco (Not in attendance)
One player out of the eight projected starters was in attendance. Then there’s the projected bench, minus Jung Ho Kang, who hasn’t officially signed yet.
Corey Hart (Not in attendance)
Sean Rodriguez (Not in attendance)
Travis Snider (Not in attendance)
Chris Stewart (Not in attendance)
You might think that Cervelli and Stewart should be here to get an early start with their pitching staff. But then there’s a look at that pitching staff…
Francisco Liriano (Not in attendance)
Gerrit Cole (Not in attendance)
A.J. Burnett (Not in attendance)
Charlie Morton (In attendance, although he lives here)
Vance Worley (In attendance)
Jeff Locke (Not in attendance, although his locker is full, showing he has been here at some point this off-season)
The only starters here are the guys who live here, or the two guys fighting for the final rotation spot. The only significant turnout was from the bullpen, where Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, John Holdzkom, Stolmy Pimentel, and Radhames Liz were here. No Mark Melancon. No Antonio Bastardo. And Watson was only here for two days.
From a business perspective, I love mini camp. After four days of interviews, I’ve got content to fill the next five weeks, leading up to the start of Spring Training. But as for the importance? There is hardly any.
It seems the biggest storyline this week was about Pedro Alvarez’s absence. His absence makes a good headline, but it’s not a story. It sounds like a bad thing to anyone who doesn’t know how little goes on at mini camp, but the reality is that Alvarez could get the exact same work in anywhere in the country that he would have gotten here.
Now there is the issue of learning first base. But let’s be honest about that.: If Alvarez doesn’t learn first base, it’s not going to be due to the fact that he skipped four short workouts in early January. And let’s be honest about something else: No one really cares about him learning first base. Yes, he needs to field the position and not be a disaster. However, the Pirates threw him in there in the middle of a pennant race with much less experience than he will have going into the 2015 season. That experiment only lasted a few days, but it was done for one reason — to get his bat in the lineup.
If Alvarez is hitting homers again, then it won’t matter if he isn’t a Gold Glove first baseman. And if he’s not hitting homers, then all the extra work in the world on his defense won’t avoid the criticism he will receive.
The main thing mini camp provides is the first updates heading into the season. You get to hear about how the off-season went for most players. In some cases, you get to hear about what they have been working on or what they plan to work on. In most cases, you’re waiting until Spring Training rolls around to get anything more than a recap of the previous season. It’s more about the players touching base with one another and getting some work in a much warmer climate. It’s not the equivalent of skipping out on a few days of Spring Training. For that reason, I can’t get upset at all about Alvarez not being here. Looking at the expected 25-man roster, he’s in the very large majority of players who stayed home. And the reason they stayed home was because there is nothing significant that takes place at mini camp.
Links and Notes
**The top 20 prospects countdown started last week. It will resume next Monday, after mini-camp is complete. The full top 20, along with the rest of the top 50 and all 200+ profiles of Pirates’ minor league players, can be found in the 2015 Prospect Guide, which can be purchased on the products page of the site.